Jimmy Butler scored 41 points and the Miami Heat turned things around with a huge third quarter on the verge of beating the shorthanded Boston Celtics 118-107 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Tyler Herro scored 18 goals and Gabe Vincent added 17 for the Heat, which outscored Boston 39-14 in the third period on Tuesday night. Butler had 17 on his own in the third, outscoring the Celtics single-handedly in those 12 minutes.
Jayson Tatum had 29 for Boston, which were without starters Marcus Smart (foot) and Al Horford (health and safety protocols). Jaylen Brown added 24 points and the Celtics got 18 each from Robert Williams III and Payton Pritchard.
Game 2 is Thursday in Miami.
Boston took a 62-54 halftime lead and everything Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during the break clearly worked.
A 22-2 run was how Miami started the second half, the run punctuated by steals that led to baskets on three straight possessions. Max Strus had one, Butler’s next two pushed the lead to 76-64, and the Heat were on their way.
The lead grew to 96-76 when Herro was fouled on a three-point try and made all three free throws early in the fourth.
Boston had a run on the left; a 10-0 push cut the deficit in half, and a triple from Tatum made it a nine-point game with 7:35 left.
But the Heat had an answer. PJ Tucker answered Tatum’s three with one of his own. Brown then connected deep to bring Boston down to single digits, only for them to respond with a trey from Strus.
Some of the plans the two teams had for Game 1 were scrapped before the Celtics revealed Smart and Horford wouldn’t be playing. Smart’s absence was somewhat expected due to a midfoot sprain he suffered in Game 7 of the Eastern Semifinals against Milwaukee on Sunday.
Horford’s absence, however, came as a surprise.
He entered league health and safety protocols on Tuesday afternoon, which ruled him out of Game 1 and could most likely keep him out for several games in the future.